Various groups, including the camps of presidential candidates, condemned the dispersal Friday of farmers who blocked a portion of the Cotabato-Davao highway in Kidapawan City to demand food assistance from the local government in the wake of the prolonged El Nino.
In a statement, Anakpawis national vice pesident Ariel Casilao said the death toll in the dispersal has reached three, two of whom were among those critically wounded. (Most reports said two farmers died.)
Casilao pinned the blame on the administration, calling the incident “the latest atrocity that the Aquino presidency has inflicted on the poor farmers”.
He added at least 30 farmers were wounded and 30 others were reported missing.
Reports quoted the Kabataan partylist as saying police opened fire on the protesters, who had blocked the highway since Wednesday to demand the release of calamity aid from the local government.
“This violence continues the bloody legacy of the Aquinos who massacred 13 farmers in Mendiola in 1987 and scores in Hacienda Luisita, and is still carried on with the Liberal Party which the governor belongs to,” Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas–Southern Mindanao spokesperson Pedro Arnado said in a statement.
“We waited three long months, bearing the unbearable heat and deep hunger. We endured days in this barricade under the sun, but only to be met by bullets after negotiations failed to reach a settlement,” Arnado said.
Also in a statement, the Freedom from Debt Coalition said it condemns “in the strongest possible terms” the violence committed by the police.
“This use of state violence against unarmed civilians by police officers using high-caliber weapons is a gross transgression of human rights and deserves the highest form of outrage from all sectors of society,” it said.
“The barricade was a peaceful and desperate protest action, set up by around 6,000 farmers and lumad peoples from several towns in Cotabato to demand immediate relief from the drought that had ravaged the province since November last year,” it added.
The group said “the ground commander and all PNP personnel who participated in the dispersal must be relieved of their duties pending independent investigations. Local government officials, particularly Kidapawan Mayor Joseph Evangelista, who was present during the carnage and who may have given the order to disperse the protestors, must face sanctions. All involved must be brought to justice.”
The Promotion of Church People’s Response also issued a statement condemning the dispersal.
It said that instead of showing compassion, “ruthless elected officials and their state forces answered these poor citizens with callous disdain and brazen violence.”
Presidential candidates have issued statements, too, condemning the dispersal.
Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago called the incident inhuman and said the government should be held accountable for the violence.
She said the actviolated the constitutional right to freedom of assembly.
“It is vile enough that this administration has failed to support the farmers and lumads of Kidapawan during the prolonged drought in Mindanao. But it is downright inhuman for them to shoot at the same people begging for help,” she said.
Administration bet Mar Roxas said he condemns the dispersal.
“The first task of the day is to restore order to area and make sure that no clash happens again. The wounded on either side should be tended to. I call on the PNP and other concerned agencies to investigate as to the true cause of the clash and, if warranted, punish those who may be accountable,” he said.
“Blood – blood of enraged and hungered people – are soaked in the hands of the landlord class personified by the Aquino-Cojuangco clique of the ruling elite,” said Leoncio Evasco Jr., national campaign manager of Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, standard bearer of PDP-Laban.
Evasco said the incident and others like it would not have happened “if the government and the people running it have responded to the clamor for change when 30 years ago the Filipino people put an end to a dictatorship.”
“It all the more becomes more tragic and despicable that the same bloodline that benefited from the ESDA 1986 revolt have soiled their hands with the blood and tears of the Filipino people that allowed them into power,” he said.
Lawyer Rico Quicho, UNA campaign spokesperson said “Vice President Jejomar C. Binay deplores the use of violence to disperse farmers in Kidapawan demanding rice from government. Bigas ang hinihingi, pero bala ang ibinigay.”
“Hunger is a reality that must be addressed not by violence but by compassion and concrete programs to improve the lives of the poor,” Quicho said.
The PNP said in a statement that two of its officers suffered head trauma following a clash with the protesters.
It said it was conducting an investigation to determine those responsible for the incident.
The farmers had barricaded the national highway since Wednesday, demanding the release of 15,000 sacks of rice subsidy amid a worsening El Niño in the province.
They called on Cotabato Governor Emmylou Mendoza to face them.
At 10:30 a.m. Friday, the police told the protesters to disperse in five minutes.
A report by ABS-CBN said that after a series of negotiations with protest leaders, police started using their shields to disperse the farmers who resisted.
Some of the farmers fought back by throwing stones at the police, the report added.
In a text message to MindaNews, Commission on Human Rights Chair Chito Gascon said their regional office will have a fact-finding team conduct its own investigation “in order to determine the facts as they unfolded as well as to clarify who might be held accountable for the violence and the injuries that resulted therefrom.”
“We ask the local government and law enforcement officials to restore order and ensure safety for all,” he added.
Meanwhile, Gov. Mendoza said in a press conference she was taking full responsibility for the dispersal (MindaNews)